Monday, August 08, 2016

The Indeterminates

First a deep breath. Spade and clippers in hand. Where to start? This garden is overgrown. Away for just a week and look what happens! Barely passable are the brick paths. Their underlying layers of weedblock are breeched. Warning to those who want to “build a wall” to keep undesirables out, dandelions without passports invade on parachutes and root in tiny fissures between bricks. Neatly pruned tomatoes that had sworn to be bound to the discipline of their stakes are thrashing about like bewitched wild things, and their shoots detain me as I walk by.

Is overgrowth a decline in the arc of life or just the lush fulfillment of youth? Is it the glorious spurt before the going to seed? I ask only because not-so-little Nick is also now overgrown. He has been set upon by hormones, and what had been a perfectly compact boy is now the somewhat mystified and confused owner of a body stretching and fomenting. He came into the garden to see what I was doing.

“I’m bringing this wild place under control is what I am doing, Nick. Look at how we can barely walk the paths without having our ankles strangled by the rampaging nasturtium. And that Clary sage with its purple spikes loaded with bees is like a raft bound for political asylum. Or like a roadblock in Kabul.  And the encroaching portulaca clumps need a good haircut, don’t they!  And look at that caryopteris. Trying to walk around that thing could cause scoliosis. What is that on your arm?”

“I broke it. I was on my bike and I crashed. You have to sign it.”

His cast was wrapped in bright red medical adhesive. (In my day, a cast was white plaster and the tape was fleshtone.) As he handed me a Sharpie, he explained that he had flown over the handlebars and walked home with his forearm at an odd angle. Most vexing for him is the doctor’s order that he not go swimming for six weeks. He’ll probably always remember this as the summer when he couldn’t swim or do fun stuff.

“Well I suppose this gets you out of that summer school thing your grandfather arranged for you?”

“No,” he said with some irritation. His grandfather, a chef, had paid for him to go to a cooking school, with an eye to passing down to Nick his profession. Nick wasn’t having it. ‘They said that even if I can’t chop stuff, I can still do everything else.”

I tried to imagine carving a radish into a swan using only my left hand and a ginzu knife.

We never do what our fathers or grandfathers want us to do, do we? My father wanted me to be happy under the hood of a sports car. He brought home wonderful cars for me, including a Triumph Herald. None of them ran, and I was not going to learn how to make them run. Although Nick would have empathized, I kept this business to myself.

Instead, I said, “When I grew up in this neighborhood, we didn’t have a community swimming pool. We made do with a brackish pond on the other side of town. Rather than swim, I played ball. Everyday, I dragged my bat and glove down to the playground where I always got picked last and played right field where nothing ever happened. It was actually very meditative.”

It’s funny how clearly I remember it. Standing alone in deep right field with my Don Drysdale glove hanging limp by my side. The smell of the grass. The smell of the glove. A garden snake with an errand passes my shoes with no curiosity. The voices of all the other boys would become so far away, and in my head I was very very far away. I was in Hollywood. Fabian himself had come from California. He was telling me to get in his car, and he was taking me straight to Hollywood. I knew that Hollywood was where I would grow into whatever it was I was meant to be. In Hollywood, no one had to fix a car. That is about as far as my daydream would go. I’d play it over and over again until I’d drag my bat and ball home for lunch. I wasn’t happy.

“Nick, I hated baseball. I only did it because that’s all we had. Except for Wednesday afternoons at 1:30 when we had Arts-and-Crafts. I made ashtrays or eagles out of plaster-of-Paris – which, incidentally is what a cast for a broken limb was made of in my day, with a dish towel for a sling.”

“So what you’re saying is you were a weird kid.”

“Yes. I wasn’t happy being weird then, but I am now. Just like you are not happy about your summer school or your arm or much anything these days, but someday, if you’re lucky, you will be happy and you’ll cherish all those things that will have gotten you there. The question is, what’s it going to be with you? Will you become a chef like your grandfather?”

“No.”

“Don’t say no. Say ‘Who knows?’ because you don’t know.”

It used to be so much easier to pontificate like this when Nick was shorter than me. Also, I am hardly one to talk to this kid about planning one’s future. I have never planned a single thing that has happened to me. When I was exactly his age, I had a best friend, Jay McGowan. We were outcasts, two matching loners. On a good day at recess, we played double-dutch with the black girls. One day, Jay announced that he was going to visit the seminary because they were having an open house, and did I want to come. I did not know what a seminary was, but of course I agreed. We both came from pious Catholic families but my parents would never have dreamed that their kid would consider the priesthood. Jay’s parents, however, were the kind of first-generation Irish American Catholics who wanted to offer their firstborn son to the Church.

I fell in love with the seminary the instant I saw it. Silvery granite Gothic with a tower that could be seen for miles.  It was like Downton Abbey for the Holy Family. Every seminarian had his own room! (At home, I shared a bedroom with my brother.) They put on a musical show for us, and said that they put on plays and concerts and variety shows all year long. A very handsome seminarian played the guitar and sang a Harry Belafonte tune, “Oh I’m sad to say, I’m on my way, I won’t be back for many a day, my heart is heavy and my head is down, I had to leave a little girl in Kingston town.” Okay, I thought, he's trying to let us know via a song lyric that we will have to give up girls if we enter the seminary. No problem. And from what I could see as I watched the seminarians charged with charming us, it wasn't a problem for any of them. I was a fourteen year-old cherub who knew the score. Jesus take the wheel, and no girls in the back seat! 

I scanned the many acres of the lush green campus. I saw playing fields, tennis courts and a gymnasium in the distance but no one said anything about baseball! It wasn’t required! It wasn't even encouraged! I knew in my heart this wouldn't be Hollywood, but it would be an easy slide into second base until I could steal home.

Before saying goodbye, they brought forth a gigantic round silver tray supporting a mountain of Oreo cookies. Have all you want, they said! This sealed the deal for me.

How could I have never heard of this place, I thought!

That evening, still humming “I’m sad to say I’m on my way,” at dinner, I announced to my parents that I was going into the seminary. I don’t think I was fully aware that this meant I intended to become a priest, but that is certainly how my parents read it. My mother cried with joy. My father frowned at his plate, confused but compliant. A few months later, I left home, and that December, my parents came to the seminary for the annual Christmas concert and heard their son do a solo, Maria’s introduction to “Do Re Mi” from the Sound of Music.  "Let's start at the very beginning," I sang out to a full house. When my choirboy soprano voice ran up that scale and walloped that top note, the auditorium burst into applause, and the bishop beamed at me from his front row seat. I thought, “So this is what it means to have a priestly vocation, to be the youngest of 650 men ages 14-24, all pressed together spiritually in an all-male community forbidden to venture beyond the property edges.” That year, I had my first cigarette, my first drink, and in the library I looked up the word homosexual. I eventually quit smoking….

Nick followed me about sullenly while I yanked out encroaching clumps of armeria, and drifts of creeping phlox. As always, he had come into the garden because I talk to him as if he were an adult. No one else does that. Today, I had not yet told him anything helpful or even odd enough to take home and think about before falling asleep.

“Nick, see that tomato plant? That one is named Roma. It gets to a certain height and it stops growing. It flowers all at once and it makes all of its tomatoes at once. That kind of tomato is called ‘determinate.” See this one here? This is a SuperSweet 100. This one will keep on growing and flowering and making tomatoes until the first strong frost in autumn kills it. That kind is called ‘indeterminate.’  The determinates seem to have a specific plan. They follow their plan, and that is it with them. Very predictable. The indeterminates however run like crazy until they just can’t run any more because the world turns cold. People are the same way. Some are like the Roma. They do what they're told. They have a plan and they follow it. They are the kind that read the IKEA manual before they assemble the furniture. I guess it makes them happy. I don’t know. I was never a determinate. Then there are people like me, like the indeterminate Supersweets. So full of desire to see and do everything that the only thing that can stop us is death itself, but until that happens we want to go everywhere and see everything and taste everything. We never get enough. We want more Oreos!”

“Hunh? Oreos?”

I had forgotten that my reminiscence about my introduction to the seminary had happened silently inside my head.

“Here’s the thing. I think you may be either a lazy indeterminate or a discontent determinate. The jury is out on you, Nick, but whatever you turn out to be, don’t be afraid of anything.”

“I’m not afraid of anything.”

"Well good. That’s half the battle. Now go home and make a list of ten things you might like to be in this world. And no, Jackie Chan [Nick’s current hero] is not allowed on that list. I also don’t want to see ‘astronaut’ on that list. Okay?”

“Whatever.”

“And give your mother these hot peppers. Or cook them yourself, Mr. Summer School chef.”

“Whatever.”

I watch him leave the garden, slower than when he was younger and used to jump about like a squirrel. Soon he will be so engulfed with adolescence that he won’t have the inclination to visit. His time in my garden will become something he will think of ruefully among all the goods of childhood that we give away. I will become uncool. Maybe even “strange” or “weird” in his new cosmology. Years may pass before he will like me anew. I hope the world he is entering will be kind to him. I hope he will be lucky, as was I. I am suddenly Professor Marvel wondering if Dorothy will make it home okay.

Turning back to the task of ordering my own raging universe, where overgrowth cannot be stopped, the song that took me away from my childhood repeats itself in my head.

“I’m sad to say, he’s on his way.
He won’t be back for many a day.”






Wednesday, June 22, 2016

For This I Live

All seven varieties of basil in my garden have leafed out beautifully in response to the regular heat of the new summer, but knowing what is to come - the dreaded and inevitable black mildew - I am wasting no time.
Today before sunrise (the oil in the leaves is strongest at this time) I took in a large bowl of it. I also clipped some parsely, sage, oregano, savory, arugula and thyme because, well, there it was, all green and leafy and ready to be mixed in with the basil to produce a unique pesto. Last week I dug up some young garlic. Fresh garlic has a mellow flavor (like a seminarian's neck.) It is difficult to peel because its skin isn't crispy, but if I can't give time to such a celestial ritual, what should I be doing? Our supermarket here in this less than chic suburb hasn't started the seasonal stocking of pine nuts, so I am using walnuts and no one would be the wiser If I hadn't said so. Cheaper, too. The olive oil is virgin but nothing too fancy. (It's not the violin, it's the bassoon.)
I added two dried Carolina Reaper hot peppers from last season to the black peppercorns when I ground them up, being sure to use rubber gloves rather than risk ruining yet another pair of contact lenses. Never able to decide whether I prefer parmigiano or pecorino romano cheese, I throw in some of both. I can't tell you the relative measurements. I just keep adding things until I get the color, consistency and taste I like. The result is very thick and smooth, not like commercial pesto which is really just oil with some bits swirled in. I can always add more oil when it is decanted. I spoon the pesto into jars provided by my husband who buys a particularly precious and pricey yogurt called "White Moustache" (available at Cafe/Bar Boulud across from Lincoln Center) that comes in perfect jars for freezing pesto.
I filled seven of these, six of which went into the freezer, destined to make the trip south with me to Fort Lauderdale in November where I will taste my summer garden throughout the winter and inflict friends with them rather than arrive at their doors with the usual bottle of wine. I drizzle some olive oil on top of the pesto before putting on the lid. I don't know why I do this. Instinct, or maybe something I once saw my grandmother do. I think it seals and protects it.
I'll be making several more batches, each one different, until the mildew shuts down the factory. For this I live. And now I am stationed in the full sun, like bright laundry on a clothesline, snappy and chattering with the neighbors, chiding the chipmunks and ready.



Friday, May 20, 2016

The Month Of DisMay

A cold May had my fingers numb as I pried bricks from a section of path that had become a roller coaster. Some burrowing critter may have tunneled during the winter below the path, causing the brick to sag. I removed them in order, stacking them according to a system that would make their reassembly fast and accurate. When Nick came running into the garden, I took a moment to stand and return the demanded fist bump. Six months had passed since we had spoken. For an eighth-grader that stretch can be a time of tumult with each day burning something new into the circuitry of a young man. For me, it had been a sojourn oddly saturnine in places despite the Fort Lauderdale sun. When he asked me what I had done all winter, I could not think of anything. Is that what it means to be relaxed, or had I been afloat in my head more than in the ocean? I was glad to be back. Glad to be in the garden. Glad to have these repairs to make. Glad to have lugged heavy bags of gravel to fill the sunken trenches that had made the paths swoop beneath the bricks. Glad to know that I am not superfluous in this place. Glad for the shock of the oddly cold month of May, a month to be remembered as DisMay.

Nick walked on the walls of the raised beds as if on a tight rope and talked about the six months of winter that I had missed and that he had spent at his new school.

I said, “So now you like Breakdown Academy? Remember how you hated the idea of having to go there?” He rolled his eyes at the old joke and opening his jacket, he pointed to the words embroidered into his shirt.

“It’s BreakTHROUGH. And I like it a lot. But today I got a pink slip.”

“You did? Well I’m certain an opportunity to wear it will someday present itself to you.” This went swiftly over his head, probably for the better.

“I accidentally punched someone when we were playing.”

“And what does the issuance of the pink slip get you?”

“Like detention. You have to sit in a room and do nothing.”

“So it’s like Florida!” I added brightly. “That’s not so bad.”

I poured the gravel into the ruts and used a rake to level it before adding a new layer of weed blocking fabric. Nick changed the subject.

“My homeroom teacher brought his fiancĂ© who’s a guy to school.”

I didn’t look up from my work. So is this where we are going now, I thought. Will this be the year when the gay thing will enter the conversation? I had always known that sooner or later Nick would grow into the realization that his neighbors are a gay couple. I think my going to Florida for half of every year may have thrown him off track for a time because the ordinary understanding of coupling precludes extended absences, but ready or not, I would have to say the right things in response to any questions from him. I hadn’t thought it through. I pretended this news was nothing.

“Really? For show-and-tell?”

Again the eye-roll. “We don’t have show-and-tell in eighth-grade. It was something where parents and teachers met and teachers brought their husbands and wives.”

A plane flying overhead made distracting noise and it reminded Nick about something. He said, “Oh! I asked my teacher about the Lindbergh baby.”

Last summer, we had a protracted discussion about the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby when I claimed it was buried beneath a rose bush I was pruning.

“He told me that you weren’t making it up. Lindbergh was a famous pilot.”

“Of course I wasn’t making it up. They called him ‘Lucky Lindy.’ You ought to consider becoming a pilot. You’ll get to go places and there’s good money to be made.”

“No, I’m going to do engineering.”

“What on earth does that mean?”

Nick was ready for another subject-change. I can only guess as to how ideas come to the forefront of the head of an eighth-grader.

“So the three people I admire most in the world are Jackie Chan, Homer Simpson and Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

“You can’t be serious. What about Bette Midler?”

“Who?”

“Nevermind. You know Lindbergh was interested in engineering when he was your age. First cars, then motorcycles and then airplanes. I think aviation is what you should focus on.”

“I’m going to figure out time travel.”

I was now replacing the bricks and my back was beginning to ache.
“Good. You can go back in time and help get the Lindbergh baby back to his parents. You’ll be a hero and get a huge reward.”

“How much?”

“I don’t remember the amount, but now that I think of it, if you brought those dollars back with you into the present, you’d be short-changed. Better to get the reward in diamonds.”

"What if I got the cash but put it into a bank before I came back to the present?”

“Not a good idea. Banks were failing in those days, and besides, even if you picked one that survived the Depression, they wouldn’t hold your account open for that many years, and how would you be able to convince a bank teller that you had opened the account 90 years ago? No, get diamonds.”

What followed was a surprisingly astute speculation on the part of Nick as to what holds its value better in the long run, cash or diamonds. Maybe he ought to consider a career in finance.

“I’ve got it, Nick. Here’s what you do. You take the reward in cash and deposit it in a bank that will survive. Something like J.P. Morgan or Wells Fargo. Mrs. Lindbergh’s father was a partner in J.P. Morgan so she can help you with this. When you set up the savings account, you have the teller take your fingerprints. You tell the bank that no one can access the account unless their fingerprints match, and that the account must be kept in perpetuity, accruing interest at the agreed upon rate. That way, when you get back to the present, you simply walk into the bank, wave your hands, slap your palms down onto the blotter, leave your prints and get your cash!”

Nick did not respond. He seemed to have tired of the subject and had become lost in thought. Then he said, “I missed you when you were gone.”

“So did I, Nick.”

“You missed yourself?” This he delivered with a mischievous grin as he ran out of the garden and jumped on his bike.

Yes, I thought. I had missed myself. I hadn’t realized this until Nick’s joke. I had lost track of myself while in Florida where that is so easy to do, and where it is actually encouraged. I had filled the space of me with sensations and with other people. I had stopped generating my own heat, with no one, myself included, seeing the difference. Then I got into the car and returned, glad for the work needed in this garden, glad to find that in his growing up, Nick hasn't outgrown his visits to my garden, and glad even for the searing cold of DisMay.












Monday, May 16, 2016

A Pope Who Loves Women

There is a refreshingly heterosexual aura on Pope Francis. He seems to be a man with a healthy and mature appreciation for real women. This sets him apart from most of the hierarchy comprised of men who are stunted in their visions of women, comfortable with an imaginary Mary-Queen-Of-The-Universe-Star-Of-The Sea-Mediatrix-Of-Salvation, but flummoxed by flesh-and-blood women with whom they shrink from shoulder-rubbing in the halls of church authority. (I will return to why I think Francis is a mature heterosexual at the conclusion of this.)

Pope Francis has given sudden evidence of his appreciation for real women in a spontaneous response to a nun who, during the May 12, 2016 meeting with the 50th anniversary conference of leaders of religious orders of women (the International Union of Superiors General) dared to ask him if the Catholic Church might be well served by women deacons. His answer – akin to his “Who am I to judge?” comment that temporarily thrilled gay Catholics – might be a slightly opened door to the ordination of women, albeit at a pace that will probably prohibit the ordination of any of the nuns present for his response in the Sala Nervi audience hall that day.

Pope Francis is willing to call for a study of the idea that women might be ordained deacons. This is significant, even though it is the same kind of side-stepping that he used when he convened a pow-wow over the issues of marriage and family. Pope Francis harbors personal opinions about these matters, but feels that it is his responsibility to act collegially and to discern the will of God as voiced by his bishops. In the case of granting Communion to divorced/remarried Catholics or granting marriage to LGBT Catholics, Pope Francis let his bishops temper what I suspect was his personal inclination to act more compassionately in those areas.

What does a Roman Catholic deacon do, and what would be the impact of women deacons. In short, a lot!

(continued after the break)

Sunday, April 10, 2016

F2M Trans Mark Angelo Detransitions Back To Maritza



The trans community can be hostile, volatile and downright dismissive when one of their own embraces an opinion that might be used to support the arguments of their oppressors. That is why widely-followed Mark Angelo Cummings, the Cuban born F2M (female-to-male) transsexual set off a firestorm when he suggested that helping youngsters transition might be misguided, and that his own transitioning might have been a big mistake.
Mark Angelo and Lynna Cummings


His recent detransitioning back to “Maritza” outraged some of his fans, and his controversial stance caused sponsors to dump him. His new wife M2F trans Lynna admits that she is attracted to Mark more than Maritza. If you are rolling your eyes, please wait a moment. This couple is wiser than any headline might lead you to think.

Six years have passed since I wrote about Cummings for South Florida Gay News (http://southfloridagaynews.com/Tony-Adams/mark-angelo-cummings-songs-in-the-key-of-f2m.html) when he was living in Hollywood, Florida, with his then-wife Violet, and beginning a career as a singer/songwriter. After several years traveling and living in New Mexico, and with a few unsuccessful relationships with men and women behind him, Cummings has returned to Fort Lauderdale with his new wife.  When I ask him if he has continued to write songs and to perform, he seems surprised by the question, and it is clear that he has spent six years generating an all-encompassing online presence in word, image and video about what it means to be trans. That did not leave much time for music.

To be clear, his detransitioning back to female is on hold for the moment as the couple takes this time to settle into Victoria Park and a new phase of their life. You can still follow Cummings’ brutally honest self-presentation on Facebook, on his blog and on his Youtube channel where fans’ tempers sometimes flare.

Maritza
Cummings did not disguise his very practical reasons for stopping his detransitioning. The money, the icy reception by his parents, the apartment hunt and his wife’s love put a stake through the heart of the freshly reborn Maritza.

Online, he clearly describes his practical decision with these words, “All of the events that took place from pounding the pavements finding an apartment that would be affordable, in a good neighborhood and free from scammers, led to my knowing that detransitioning was not an option for me after all. I felt vulnerable as Maritza and had to use, yes I know, my male privilege to get the job done. It is a jungle out there and unfortunately my alpha nature [as Mark] is needed to be taken seriously and to protect my wife and I during certain situations[…]Nonetheless I don’t regret the 3 months of my attempts to detransition, but in those three months, I quickly learned how much I hated fussing over myself, the make up, the worrying about what I was going to wear, the looking in the mirror and not liking what I saw. In the end, it would take way too much money to detransition and to make things look presentable after 13 years of testosterone and all of the secondary characteristics that it created.  I am who I am, and after all at 51 years of age, I can’t put myself through all of that. I became Mark 13 years ago, and Mark I shall remain.”

Building on those words, I asked Mark who he actually is. He replied, “I am two-spirited. Sometimes the female part of my nature comes to the foreground and sometimes my male side dominates. I think we are all like that to some degree.”

In listening to Mark and Lynna, I find that what separates them from most people is their fearless ability to give expression to what is in their hearts without worrying about the approval of others, and free from the assumption that today’s decision must be monumental or permanent. Gender-presentation seems to be a small part of their deep devotion to each other, and the gifts they give each other are more lavish than their sex organs.

Lynna tells me that soon after their arrival in Fort Lauderdale, Mark brought her to the Wilton Manors bar Alibi. Walking through that door, Mark rejoiced at being in a crowd of gay men and proclaimed them to be his people. Did that moment upset Lynna? Not in the slightest. She shrugs and smiles when she tells me about this. She knows and cherishes her husband to the core. She accepts the entire package that is Mark Angelo and Maritza Cummings without much concern about the wrapping. Glad to have all three of them nearby, I hope Mark will pick up his guitar and write some new songs.

For more, check out http://www.transitionradio.net

 (In print and online this week in South Florida Gay News - sfgn.com





Friday, April 08, 2016

Pope Tevye And The Fiddler On The Roof Of St. Peter’s


My Analysis Of Pope Francis’ Exhortation Amoris Laetitia


Throughout two years of anticipation for Amoris Laetitia, few hoped it would open the door to same-sex marriage in the Catholic Church, while many hoped it would allow divorced and remarried Catholics to openly receive the sacrament of Holy Communion. Because of the way Francis weighs his options and considers various points of view before making any decision, he reminds me very much of the dairy farmer Tevye in the musical Fiddler On The Roof. He is a man who loves tradition but he loves his family even more. In the course of the musical, Tevya gives in to his daughters’ wishes until he is finally pushed to the wall over an issue he cannot condone. This Exhortation he calls Amoris Laetitia – The Joy Of Love - constitutes such a wall for Pope Francis regarding divorced and remarried Catholics seeking to receive Communion, and LGBT Catholics seeking sacramental marriage.  In order to become hopeful or to read-it-and-weep, let's have a look at what he says.


[Read on]

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Hillary Clinton On The Reagans' Response To AIDS

Want to learn about the Reagan/AIDS backstory in your weighing the inaccurate remarks and apology made by Hillary regarding Nancy and Ronald Reagan's response to the epidemic? Do these four easy things.
First, watch this video if you haven't already seen it on Savagelove:
Then read this brief bio of the journalist who questioned the ultimately discredited Larry Speakes 
Even though Kinsolving helped bring AIDS into the public and presidential eyes, he was basically and religiously anti-gay. That is why you don't see him being trotted down mainstreets as grand marshall at Pride marches. He is a mixed bag, hero and foe. 
Then, consider Hillary's record. Some say she came late to her advocacy for the LGBT community. That is true of everyone in the world. No one is born swaddled in the rainbow flag. Some get there before others, but she has done good for us in recent years. I don't care about her motives.
Finally, consider how it felt to come out of the closet at the onset of AIDS as did my husband in 1982/83 when verified deaths from AIDS were in only the hundreds but young gay men desperately needed guidance and information rather than the derisive laughter of a presidential press secretary.

People are complicated. Some want to lead others. Some just want to have fun. Others wake up, look at the ocean and wonder how long it would take to swim to the horizon. Would I have the strength? Would I be attacked by a sea creature from the depths? What will be there when I get there?